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Vendors sell memento T-shirts at wildfire

Vendors say they are not out to turn a buck on a natural disaster

By Anthony Siino
The Chico Enterprise-Record

WEST LAKE ALMANOR, Calif. — Trips to Vegas or Disneyland often warrant souvenirs, and sometimes large-scale wildfires prove no different.

Firefighters came from all over the nation to respond to the 60,000-plus acre Chips Fire. When they set up camp, vendors pull up alongside to give them something more than a burnt pinecone to take home namely, T-shirts.

When the incident command post set up in West Lake Almanor a few weeks back, canopies and trailers appeared across the street carrying colorful T-shirts, most of them emblazoned with firefighter symbols and “Chips Fire 2012" centered in large poker chips.

It’s a crowded market where everybody knows the competition personally, said Darin Enck of Darin Enck Mobile Screen Printing, a business centered in Orland. Having served in the Orland Fire Department, Enck knows what it’s like to want a memento from a major fire event.

“They come here and that’s what they want,” Enck said. “They want a souvenir.”

His competitor about 20 yards over was Traveling T’s, a business centered in Reno that has a mobile screen press.

Steven Reich pressed new shirts with it while manning the business’ trailer a couple of weekends ago.

“It’s really a pride thing for these firefighters, and they’re doing such a good job,” Reich said.

Both men separately said firefighters often ask T-shirt makers to provide them with shirts. Despite that, they notice that public perception of their trade is easily demonized.

“They think that we’re just out here to make money on a natural disaster and that’s not how it is at all,” Reich said.

Bringing T-shirts to sell to firefighters can be risky if too many shirts are printed, and fire-related clothing only makes up a small fraction of business, Enck said. He waits for details on the numbers of firefighters and where crews are coming from before taking his shirts on the road.

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